Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Birthday Blues

Sydney's second birthday is in one week. Her birthday should be in mid-June, but she was born six weeks early, hundreds of miles from home, on a weekend road trip to visit Matt's ailing grandpa in Michigan. Matt and I birthed in Ann Arbor, in a hospital off the highway, alone in the middle of the night with Willow, not yet two, and an army of inept med students (as a "walk-in," I rated the same status as transients and the uninsured). We stayed in that hospital for three weeks, first with me alone in the mother-baby ward and Matt and Willow on a king-sized futon in his Aunt Peggy's basement, then all of us in a hotel room comped by a pitying social worker on the far side of the hospital. Every morning I'd walk alone across the hospital to spend the next 18 hours with Sydney in the NICU, while Matt spent the day entertaining Willow with crayons and bubbles and trips to the park and the big box bookstore--we had only enough toys to entertain her for a weekend car trip, only enough clothes for two days, only maternity clothes for me, and no baby clothes. Matt's grandma bought Sydney some preemie outfits, his Aunt Peggy bought him enough underwear for a week, and his cousin Kristin let me borrow her husband's sweatpants and T-shirts.

All day I sat with Sydney, spying on the NICU staff and the other families, rocking Sydney and mindlessly humming "Baby Beluga," Willow's favorite song, over and over, feeding her expressed breastmilk through a tube in her nose every two hours, holding her down during blood draws and IV changes and feeding tube changes--she still has scars on her heels from the needles. Some nurses were nice and some were incompetent, some neonatologists were compassionate and some were insufferable, and once when I went out for a sandwich the baby two incubators over from Syd suffered a brain hemhorrage and died; I only found out all the details by eavesdropping on the nurses' whispered gossip during shift change.

Sure, though, there were funny things that happened. Once a code pink claxoned throughout the hospital, automatically locking down all elevators and exits, and a security force came busting into the NICU asking where Baby Shoemaker was last seen. Turns out that the newborn security cuffs weren't sized for preemies, and Sydney had kicked hers off her ankle while I'd been sitting right next to her, setting of the alarm. From then on it was kept taped to the side of her isolette. Connor's mom was another source of amusement, and I watched daily for her visits. Connor, the infant on Sydney's other side, weighed one pound and some change after approximately two months in the NICU, and his mom was always doing awesome things like screaming hysterically that he was going to die and not being permitted to touch him because she reeked too much of smoke and bringing new angel fetish objects every day and arguing with the nurses when they moved the quilts and other crap she liked to arrange on top of his isolette because it was causing the incubator to overheat. She wasn't even there both times they had to restart his heart, but I was.

The weeks around Sydney's birthday are a sad time for me. I have trouble sleeping, and I accidentally keep crying. It's the only time my mind can't repress the anxiety and memories of that time, and my body remembers the grief of not being able to hold, or nurse, or carry away my child. It helps to try to be useful. We can sometimes afford small donations to the March of Dimes, which, now that polio is mostly eradicated, works to prevent premature birth, but in a more practical way it's even more useful to make items to donate to the NICU. Sydney wore many teeny little ugly crocheted hats while she was incarcerated, and the sickest infants got quilts, but what we really could have used were preemie hospital gowns or going-home clothes, or lovies for Willow.

St. Joseph's is the NICU where Sydney was cared for, but they need the same stuff everywhere.


Abby said...

Julie, this made me cry.

julie said...

I know--it's probably not a good thing that my main emotional defense mechanism is repression, but it does help me sleep at night. Matt's always joking about how I'm going to write my memoirs someday, but I'm always like, "I'll have to have hypnotherapy first."

Jenny said...

I've heard the story before, but it's the first time I've read it and it brought tears to my eyes too.